Sax on the Web Forum banner

1 - 20 of 21 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
102 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
I was checking out the Saxquest website for the first time the other day and noticed their vintage horns for sale. Quite an impressive collection, overall. I saw they had a couple of altos(an old Conn, 1922 vintage and a Selmer Cigar Cutter)and a Mark VI tenor listed as gold-plated. I was unaware that gold-plating was available as a sax finish, and in the pictures these horns were absolutely fabulous! Had several questions, though:
1) Is this real gold or just a gold-colored lacquer?
2)If real gold, was this offered from the factory or something the owners did special for themselves?
3)Are there any contemporary saxes offered in gold-plate, or is this a vintage-only, "lost art" type of thing?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
102 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Yes, Saxquest did state it was original on the altos, don't recall anything about originality on the Mark VI tenor. Thanks for the reply, just learned my new thing for the day...
 

·
SOTW Columnist, Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
23,027 Posts
Gold plating has been available for saxes from at least the '20s on. It's actually a 2-part process. The horn is silver-plated first, then gold-plated. Gold won't adhere directly to brass. On older horns you might see some of the silver showing through where the gold has worn off.
 

·
Moderator
Grafton alto | Martin Comm III tenor
Joined
·
28,953 Posts
I have recently had the pleasure of trying two modern gold plated horns from hanson. Both 24K, a baritone which was shiny gold and a tenor which was a frosty finish. I think gold is better than silver or lacquer. Lacquer wears off and silver tarnishes. Gold just stays gold.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,524 Posts
I have a gold plated Yamaha EX alto. I love it. For a long time I felt that finished made no difference. With this one, it made -all- the difference. However, gold plate will indeed tarnish, though not as quickly as silver. And, it just does not look as awful when tarnished as silver does.

Steve P
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1,293 Posts
Mmm! Gold doesn't tarnish, but it can and does get dirty over several years.

Most USA makers in the 1920s offered gold plated saxes, at a cost about double that of a bare brass one. Once lacquer was introduced - about the time the Great Depression was loomimg - gold plating went largely out of fashion. (Not out of use, before anyone jumps in, just out of fashion!)

There have been specials: Selmer made a GP tenor for Coleman Hawkins to boost their advertising and pockets of GP saxes can still be found. My TT alto is gold plated and I love it. It is not as good, it must be admitted, as one or two other (and later) TTs I have owned, but the looks provide a strong feelgood factor.

The downside is that, once the plating is lost, the sax will look dreadful. Mine still looks - and feels - great.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
4,147 Posts
Interesting story: Bob Mintzer had a student who died and left him his Mark 6. Well, Bob already had one, so now he has two Mark 6 tenors. Oleg had been trying to get him to get his horn gold plated, saying it would do a bunch of stuff to his sound. He decided to get the new one (which he deemed inferior to his old one) plated, and now uses that horn pretty much all the time.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2011
Joined
·
1,612 Posts
MRC, here is a link discussing different bare-metal finishes (especially burnished-gold-plate) that have been available and how to care for them. Just be warned, the more you find out about them, the more you tend to search them out...
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member/Technician
Joined
·
21,036 Posts
I think gold plate was popular in the 20s as there were no lacquer horns. I have several gold plated saxes, 2 Conn Altos, one L&H Alto, 2 Martin altos and a Conn Chu Tenor. Most of the Gold plated ones have really nice engraving.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member and Old King Log
Joined
·
801 Posts
I have a 1920's vintage Conn top end alto, and it too was gold plated at one time. Alas, when I had the rebuild done on the horn, both the gold plating and silver underplating at the part of the horn which rubbed against the body had been worn through down to the bare brass.

At the time, I didn't think that it would be worth the extra money to go for gold plating on the rebuild. (The silver plating was a given, considering what my skin does on plain old lacquer.) So, I saved the money at the time.

Looking back from quite a few years later, I should have eaten the expense and had the thing done right, but it originally wasn't a consideration. I thought I had the hulk of a very old lacquered sax on my hands, and wanted to replace that with silver.

Only when the brass guy at my repair/rebuild shop took the dirty, gummy thing over to the buffer wheel and cleaned off a spot did I get to see what I had. I was tempted in the worst way to say "yes" to the gold, but (alas) only had enough budgeted for silver. Such is the world of snap decisions.

Gold looks very good (and I mean very good) when you see it, but you are going to be paying for both a silver and a gold plating job when you specify it. And, a silver plated horn looks very good as well.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2011
Joined
·
1,612 Posts
SOTSDO said:
I have a 1920's vintage Conn top end alto, and it too was gold plated at one time. Alas, when I had the rebuild done on the horn, both the gold plating and silver underplating at the part of the horn which rubbed against the body had been worn through down to the bare brass.

At the time, I didn't think that it would be worth the extra money to go for gold plating on the rebuild. (The silver plating was a given, considering what my skin does on plain old lacquer.) So, I saved the money at the time.

Looking back from quite a few years later, I should have eaten the expense and had the thing done right, but it originally wasn't a consideration. I thought I had the hulk of a very old lacquered sax on my hands, and wanted to replace that with silver.

Only when the brass guy at my repair/rebuild shop took the dirty, gummy thing over to the buffer wheel and cleaned off a spot did I get to see what I had. I was tempted in the worst way to say "yes" to the gold, but (alas) only had enough budgeted for silver. Such is the world of snap decisions.

Gold looks very good (and I mean very good) when you see it, but you are going to be paying for both a silver and a gold plating job when you specify it. And, a silver plated horn looks very good as well.
Buffing a gold-plated sax is sin in my book. Shame on your tech!

I will lament your horn....

:(

Even if someone is going to have a horn gold-plated today, I don't think that there is anybody alive who would be able to burnish the finish like those old masters at the Conn camp did. ...well maybe a few exist, but I seriously doubt anyone would go through the effort for what anybody is actually likely to pay for it today.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member/Technician
Joined
·
21,036 Posts
My Martin HC with that original burnished finish is spectacular. On the keywork and bell areas you can actually see where they rubbed the finish to a shine. The engraving even has a bird (a Martin?) in the lower area. I rarely play it but just put it together and look at it. My Conns are not as well preserved but look good from about 5 feet away. Even though I actually prefer the silver horns, the goldies are wonders just for the added workmanship. Anyone who likes a gold horn should ALWAYS look for a plated horn rather than a lacquerd horn. This is very true with Martins as the lacquer on the oldies is terrible.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member and Old King Log
Joined
·
801 Posts
Little Sax said:
Buffing a gold-plated sax is sin in my book. Shame on your tech!

I will lament your horn....
Don't feel bad about it. As he said at the time. the plating was far enough gone that it would have needed a "redo" overall as the horn was being brought back to like-new standards.

I have not saved a photo of the original condition of the instrument, but I wish that I had, for the change is amazing. I originally bought the horn for conversion into a lamp, as it was pretty much a wreck when purchased. (I paid all of $25.00 for it.) No intact pads (long ago eaten by mice, apparently), worn down through the finish to the bare metal on the back due to long use (and the brass badly pitted as well), a neck strap ring almost worn through at the top, several rods frozen by corrosion, a frozen Micro-Tuner®, and a couple of odd pieces missing here and there. Pluses were that the horn was virtually undented, the "important" parts were all there or easily replaceable, and that all of the "Mercedes" style key guards were firmly in place (and apparently never had been broken free at any time in the horn's long life span).

What caught my eye at the time was not the potential as a player, but rather the unusual engraving on the bell. The cartouche on the bell contains not a naked woman but rather an odd, three-quarters view of a woman dressed in 1920's garb, with the name "Helen Willson" (note the double "L" in the name, which is not a typo) engraved above.

(Since some pretty intensive internet searching plus inquires in professional music circles turned up zero on the name, the general consensus has been that she was the owner and that the horn was a custom item made for her as a gift. Any alternate information on this would be welcomed, of course.)

From the overall as-purchased condition of the horn plus the unusual engraving, it has been decided that this was one of the upper tier of Conn's creations, but not of the utmost tippy-top. The reasoning for this classification is that the engraving only extends to the majority of the bell, not elsewhere on the horn. So, it may have been pretty expensive at the time and place (perhaps all of three hundred dollars or so), but it could have been worse.

Only after I had played my first Conn horn some ten years later did I decide to first find out if mine was one (it was) and second, to have it rebuilt. During the intervening years, the filthy, gummy-looking thing (and its God forsaken mildewed case) resided in the cellar or attic, triple wrapped in plastic garbage bags the better to keep down the smell.

When it was rebuilt, I had all of the damage made good, a set of close to the original Conn style pads installed, a new (and very substantial) neck strap ring put on, and the corrosion damage at the rear of the horn cleaned up a bit, and then the whole thing silver plated. Gold would have been nicer, as I said, but I was loath to spend that much on what was originally a piece of untested junk.

(I also literally burnt the case. There was no hope for that piece of luggage work, and fixing the mouse-gnawed hole in the one corner would have been impossible in any case. The horn now resides in a Pro-Tech alto case, one well equipped with a matching sock for the neck and plenty of anti-tarnish protection as well.)

It is a nice conversation piece (the horn looks spectacular under stage lighting, and it draws no end of comment from audience members whenever I use it for perhaps three tunes in a typical job). It gets most of its use when I am in a travel status (last year I spent an entire month in New Orleans, and I'm going to have to do the same this year as well) when I take it along to keep my skills up for sax playing in general.
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2011
Joined
·
1,612 Posts
SOTSDO said:
Don't feel bad about it. As he said at the time. the plating was far enough gone that it would have needed a "redo" overall as the horn was being brought back to like-new standards.
[...]
What caught my eye at the time was not the potential as a player, but rather the unusual engraving on the bell. The cartouche on the bell contains not a naked woman but rather an odd, three-quarters view of a woman dressed in 1920's garb, with the name "Helen Willson" (note the double "L" in the name, which is not a typo) engraved above.
[...]
From the overall as-purchased condition of the horn plus the unusual engraving, it has been decided that this was one of the upper tier of Conn's creations, but not of the utmost tippy-top. The reasoning for this classification is that the engraving only extends to the majority of the bell, not elsewhere on the horn. So, it may have been pretty expensive at the time and place (perhaps all of three hundred dollars or so), but it could have been worse.
[...]
When it was rebuilt, I had all of the damage made good, a set of close to the original Conn style pads installed, a new (and very substantial) neck strap ring put on, and the corrosion damage at the rear of the horn cleaned up a bit, and then the whole thing silver plated. Gold would have been nicer, as I said, but I was loath to spend that much on what was originally a piece of untested junk.

(I also literally burnt the case. There was no hope for that piece of luggage work, and fixing the mouse-gnawed hole in the one corner would have been impossible in any case. The horn now resides in a Pro-Tech alto case, one well equipped with a matching sock for the neck and plenty of anti-tarnish protection as well.)
[...]
I have a similarly engraved Cmel in my possession. I've included a couple of pictures (one before and several after the restoration). The only finish more rare than this from Conn, as you alluded to, has custom engraving over the entire horn. The final step-up includes pearls on all the key touches.

A piece of advice for anyone who happens on an old Conn with intricate engraving, if the case is original and has green felt, it's gold-plated. Conn only used green felt for their gold-plated saxophones (whether burnished or satin finished).

The professional who restored this gem joked that the model for my engraving must have been Megan Mullally's Granny... :)






 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
1,337 Posts
Even Selmer got into the act on the gold plated & burnished stuff way back when.
Some of the pre-Balanced Action horns look pretty spiffy with the ornate engraving & burnished finish.
BA & later, you don't tend to see much gold finish, as out of fashion as an above post mentioned, combined with greater cost during the Depression, etc.
I have a 12,xxx Selmer that's really quite nice to look at...
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member and Old King Log
Joined
·
801 Posts
My horn came in a green plush furnished case as well, although I'd never given it much thought before. The thing is now burnt and gone to Jesus, so to speak - it was so aromatic that you could not bear to be in the same room with it.

As the town we lived in at the time would not take such items as part of the "regular trash", I ran it out to a friend's farm and torched it in the burn barrel out there.

I still have trouble believing that something that dried out could smell so bad...

Helen Willson (the woman whose name was on the horn, and the default moniker for the portrait engraved thereon) was one ugly woman. A hook nose, rounded shoulders (but that may be a function of the fashions of the day), an elongated. horse-like face, and hair covered by a 1920's era cloche hat, all of which come through well in the engraving, are not calculated to attract the modern male eye. And, she is completely clothed as well - not a hint of nakedness about her...
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member
Joined
·
1,337 Posts
I might also mention that Selmer still offers gold, silver, nickel finishes, as well as combo body/key finishes, such as silver keys on a lacquer body.
This stuff was advertised in the Euro catalogs, but after WWII, not much was listed in the U.S. catalogs; therefore, no one on this side of the pond knew to order...

I have a gold plated Series II alto with Harmonic key that I bought in the mid-1990s, after a trip to Paris, where I'd picked up some French catalogs to peruse. Selmer/Elkhart had not yet heard of the 'H' key, but did know about ordering gold factory finishes.
Nifty horn, best Series II alto I've yet played.

If you get the bug to special order one of these, investigate the old 'frosted/matte' finish(different from the current mat finish). Sand blasted, etc, quite a nice look. Wish I'd thought to order my alto this way, but didn't know, so I got a polished gold plate, which still looks pretty sweet :)
 

·
Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2013
Joined
·
11,501 Posts
I have a 1998 Cannonball alto that is supposedly gold plated, and I have no reason to doubt that it is. So far the only draw-back I have noticed is that there is a small patch on the low D# pinky key that has flaked off, not a big deal right now, but perhaps an indication of things to come. All finishes wear down; however this spot is a flake that may have occured due to improper cleaning before plating or whatever... after all the horn is pushing 9 years old. Still, the gold plating is still strikingly pretty. A beautiful horn.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
59 Posts
I have a gold plated(matte color) Buescher soprano.It is a thing of beauty to see & play. The model is True Tone. Built in 1923. Great soprano. Rustyreed.
 
1 - 20 of 21 Posts
Top